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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The SIDEWAYS journey continues in new and surprising ways...
If you ever wanted to continue riding along with Miles and Jack as they drink fine wines and sleep with sultry women, "Vertical" definitely delivers. But Rex Pickett doesn't merely retread the same terrain as he did in "Sideways", he sets his story on existential fire, deconstructs it, and then boldly shoves it into uncharted emotional territory for himself and his...
Published on December 31, 2010 by Marco Critic

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If you liked Sideways, you may not like Vertical
*** Mild spoilers throughout ***

Like many folks who have read this book, I suspect, I came at it first from the movie version of Sideways, which was fabulous, and got me interested in reading the novel on which the film was based. That got me to Rex Pickett's tale, which I thought was very good; not quite as good a book as the film version was a movie, but...
Published 23 months ago by Max Prendergast


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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The SIDEWAYS journey continues in new and surprising ways..., December 31, 2010
If you ever wanted to continue riding along with Miles and Jack as they drink fine wines and sleep with sultry women, "Vertical" definitely delivers. But Rex Pickett doesn't merely retread the same terrain as he did in "Sideways", he sets his story on existential fire, deconstructs it, and then boldly shoves it into uncharted emotional territory for himself and his alter-ego, Miles Raymond. If a "sequel" is technically just more of something, then "Vertical" does not qualify. Life is drastically different for Miles this time around, who is reeling from his success as a writer who's book became a hot movie (sound familiar?). In "Sideways" Miles was dogged by his failures, now Miles is dogged by his success and its trappings: drowning in all the Pinot and p---y he could ever hope for. Like Icarus before him, Miles is flying too close to the sun and his proverbial wings are melting. Between chugging from spit-buckets before cheering crowds and engaging in whirlwind threesomes, he's quickly losing touch with reality. A reality that becomes impossible to ignore when he chooses to rescue his ailing mother from her nursing home. His mission: to emcee a hedonistic wine festival in Oregon en route to depositing his mother in Wisconsin to live out her final days. Easier said than done, to say the least.

Yes, Miles and Jack are back, loaded up on wine and hitting the West Coast asphalt (along with an eternally-stoned Filipina caretaker and his mother's pesky dog). Only now, Jack is the loser going nowhere fast with his life (divorced, jobless) and Miles is the wild womanizer, a role-reversal that offers much insight into both characters, and a lot of laughs. Once again, Miles sets out on a road trip with the best of intentions, only to have them backfire in all the right ways, setting an unpredictable domino-effect into motion that ultimately makes him a better person in the end. If "Sideways" was about sending off a best friend in style to get married, then "Vertical" is about sending off a parent to die with some semblance of dignity. In both cases, Miles is undergoing a personal transformation despite focusing all his efforts on others. Like life, "Vertical" is not a comedy nor a drama -- it is decidedly both, and with potent effect. I laughed out loud on several occasions (the ever-incorrigible Jack continues to get himself into horrible-yet-hilarious predicaments) and cried twice toward the end. The author is able to provoke this spectrum of emotions because he realizes that at the end of every lustful bacchanal, there is an existential hangover that must be dealt with. These days, it's hard to find fictional prose that has the courage to embrace subject matter pertaining to actual human beings. Let's face it: when our art is designed purely for escapism, we ultimately end up escaping our own humanity. Rex Pickett knows this all too well, and delivers -- more than just a sequel -- a bittersweet meditation on Fame, Friendship and Family that is not to be missed.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On the Road Again, March 1, 2011
This review is from: Vertical (Paperback)
Miles and Jack are back on the road, this time venturing to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, to again chase their quaffable dragon, Pinot Noir. And I couldn't be happier to read about it!

Vertical, Rex Pickett's follow up to his acclaimed debut novel Sideways, is a rewarding read for anyone who loved the Sideways novel or the film adaptation. Lovers of the movie will delight in imagining how Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen will play the scenes of Vertical, and lovers of the novel will enjoy seeing how the true characters (as the Miles and Jack of the novel differ greatly from the ones in the movie) have grown, matured, and in some cases regressed, since that fateful trip to Santa Ynez.

Not to be left out, Oenophiles and casual wine lovers get their due, as Rex treats the reader to a handy primer on Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, and a few further lessons about the wine world of Central Coast California.

What I enjoy most about Rex Pickett's work is how much of himself you can read into his characters. Rex's choice to parallel his own life, by having Miles find success by writing a novel that is, ostensibly Sideways, and have it achieve the same film success as the Alexander Payne movie, is a master stroke. Rex gets to comment on the compromise-laden reality of Hollywood, how when movies are made into books, the two entities become interchangeable, and, for better or worse, how the author of the novel must accept what the film and filmmaker turn the book into. More importantly, knowing what we know about how similar real life and the world of the novel are, we get the added bonus (read: "salacious joy") of wondering just how much of what we are reading actually happened to Rex.

In Vertical, Miles has written the novel Shameless, watched an independent filmmaker turn it into a hit movie, and has since ridden the success of the franchise to new found wealth and more interestingly, respect in the wine world. This respect becomes both the boon and bane of Miles's existence.

What Vertical explores in a way Sideways barely touched on, is the simple fact that Miles is an alcoholic. Not simply a guy who likes the grape on occasion, this is a man who cannot function without alcohol. He drinks to wake up, he drinks to go to sleep; he drinks to calm his nerves, and he drinks when he is calm. With his newfound stardom, Miles is invited to host and speak at wine events, giving him instant access to an endless supply of the best wine money can buy. Unfortunately, this is like giving an addict the keys to a meth house. Or giving Charlie Sheen Internet access.

While the novel is materially about another road trip for Miles and Jack, with the ultimate destination this time being the delivery of Miles's stroke-addled mother to her sister in Wisconsin, the real plot is Miles's struggle to come to terms with his alcoholism. While the first half appears to be simply another wild and wacky ride for our favorite drinkers, the second half of the book takes a turn to darker, more rewarding places, as Miles begins to sober up and see the world with clear eyes. This is where the reader will find the true treasure of Vertical.

The wine notes are interesting and the bacchanalia of the IPNC are amusing, but the development of Miles's relationship with his Mother is heartbreaking, and gives further insight into the life of our author, Rex. Alcoholics aren't made, they're created; it's with a dawning realization of anger that Miles sees his dependence on alcohol (and subsequent emotional and romantic problems) may be hereditary and out of his hands. His yearning to know about his past and understand his dying mother are a far cry from his Sideways days of stealing money from his Mother on her birthday. This is a Miles who is desperate to make sense of his life, after the rollercoaster Shameless (nee Sideways) has put him thru. It's a journey that is central to all man's questions: who am I, where did I come from, what can I control? Readers will find themselves relating to this part of the book more than anything Miles or Jack do in pursuit of great wine.

If Sideways is a guidebook for how to fall down in the face of struggle, Vertical is surely a story about how to get up and stand tall in the wake of that struggle. While I don't know if Rex plans his titles so thematically, if he doesn't it's simply a further testament to his talents as a writer, and his gift of creating complex, fascinating characters that readers can love, admonish, relate to, rebel against, and ultimately respect.

Vertical is a wonderful book, and I urge you seek it out.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First half drags, second half great ~, January 30, 2013
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I loved Sideways, both the novel and the film. I read Sideways again just before starting this novel. I won't go into too many details, but the first half involves a new Miles enjoying his new lifestyle. He decides to take a road trip from LA up to IPNC Oregon before heading east to Wisconsin to deliver his ailing mother to her sister. So we have a road trip. Awesome yes? Well yes and no.

The first half of the novel is all about Miles looking to get laid. And Pickett seems to really get into these scenes. Sadly he spends a lot of time on these 'conquests', albeit to set up later events, but the rest of the narrative suffers. Jack has become a sad and uninteresting character, clinging to Miles coattails. The most interesting character is Miles' mother and her crazy dog Snapper.

Once the group is on the road, I expected some winery antics, but sadly we get a stop in at Justin and a quick stop at Foxen. The winery visits lose their allure and are not as funny as in the first novel. In Sonoma we have a quick stop at Gary Farrel. Sadly no Oregon wineries are visited except the stop at Willakenzie while on the IPNC tour bus. What I missed though was the banter between Jack and Miles while drinking and delighting in the vineyard.

IPNC is the turning point. While at IPNC some pretty interesting events go down, and we are finally back in the 'Sideways' territory. Once we are with Miles on the subsequent trip to Wisconsin, we enter a whole new realm of writing for Pickett. This is personal, heartfelt, and moving. The relationship between Miles and his mother is brought to the forefront. We also see Miles confront himself with both his alcoholism and his loneliness. It's pretty amazing stuff.

So I rounded out to four stars. The first half has some interesting moments, but overall nothing as funny as some of the crazy happenings in Sideways (the boar hunter scene comes to mind!). The second half is amazing. The scene in the Thunderstorm is great, as are the scenes in the final two chapters. It's worth reading if you are a fan of Sideways. Don't expect it to be quite as solid as Sideways though and you will be pleased.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wine and Redemption, April 8, 2012
I loved 'Sideways' - both the book and the movie, so when 'Vertical' was released, and I got Rex to sign a copy for me at Pinot Days in Santa Monica, I was looking forward to another wild ride. It didn't disappoint.

The book follows the adventures of Miles and Jack a few years after Miles' tremendous success and accompanying celebrity. But something is missing. Miles feels empty and unsatisfied. Invited to appear at a Pinot Noir festival in Oregon, Miles opts to drive north with his ailing mother, her frenetic dog, a marijuana-puffing nurse, and Jack, of course. Their adventures on the road are alcohol-fueled and desperate; their behavior inappropriate, as expected.

I found myself getting angry and frustrated on the journey, mainly because I had recently lost my mother - whose illness was similar to Miles' mom - and I was still grieving. It was late in the book, when I saw how Miles took his life back, that I was moved to tears.

For me, the last few chapters of 'Vertical' were strangely comforting because Miles' feelings and his struggle to make things right were real. Those of us who have dealt with the loss of our parents will find that what Rex has put on the page echoes our own struggle with, and acceptance of, our loss.

I highly recommend taking the trip along with Miles and Jack. Cheers!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If you liked Sideways, you may not like Vertical, April 6, 2013
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This review is from: Vertical (Paperback)
*** Mild spoilers throughout ***

Like many folks who have read this book, I suspect, I came at it first from the movie version of Sideways, which was fabulous, and got me interested in reading the novel on which the film was based. That got me to Rex Pickett's tale, which I thought was very good; not quite as good a book as the film version was a movie, but very good. So I was looking forward to continuing the journey and really, really wanted to enjoy Vertical. But I just couldn't...

As others note, Vertical is set seven years after the events in Sideways. With art mirroring life, Miles is now enjoying west coast wine celebrity by virtue of having finally got a pretty good book published which by incredible good fortune got turned into a highly successful movie. So far so good; so what's my problem?

Well, first is the setting. It's another road trip, but this time the mission is transporting Miles's elderly mother back to her hometown of Sheboygan (determinedly down-market) to live with her sister. Again this includes passing through wine country, in this case the Willamette Valley of Oregon, but the descriptions of wines this time seem like canned drop-ins. I can imagine an index card somewhere with "Winery XYZ" at the top and few bullet points which then get ladled into the text. Also unsettling are several instances where Miles, in his new-found celebrity role, is booked to give speeches before various groups. These are reproduced verbatim and with Miles's descriptions of the crowd going absolutely demented with hilarity. But the speeches are just not that funny. Is this an attempt at an Unreliable Narrator device? Or has Rex Pickett actually experienced crowds going berserk for the weakest of humor -- maybe if enough wine is being consumed. And I'm finally sick of the word "quaff".

But a story is about characters, not setting, and the central issue for me was that I did not find the character relationships to be working. The characters have certainly evolved since their Sideways days, and that's great. Indeed, full marks to Rex Pickett for the fact that Vertical is certainly not a rewritten "Sideways II". Unfortunately, though, every character has evolved with monotonous negativity. Miles is now manipulative, mendacious, and insensitive. Jack, previously a successful, charming rogue, is now a hopeless loser. But the worst fates are provided to the female characters. Both the Maya and Terra characters only get brief, largely off-stage cameos, but enough to tell us how bitter and used they feel. The gorgeous Maya is now described with crow's feet on her face from too much sun and too many cigarettes. And Miles's mother is now a stroke-addled, incontinent invalid -- and it is in that condition that she serves as the central supporting character and is on practically every page of the book.

*** Heavier spoilers below ***

As the novel progresses, the litany of loss and damage just goes on and on. We hear about Mile's sorry excuse for a father and brothers. There is a visit to Miles's lost uncle who lives in a dismal flop house. Jack suffers a "hilarious" medical mishap that involves having a doctor minster to his private parts in a manner not for the squeamish. The mother's caretaker spirals into monosyllabic hostility and eventually decamps, leaving Miles in desperate straits. Jack bugs out too. Even the mother's dog gets hurt.

Don't get me wrong: it's great that the characters have evolved, and there is no reason to have a fairy tale story where every character is richer, better looking,and happier than before. Clearly Rex Pickett wanted to move opposite the direction of happy-go-lucky light comedy, and had some things he wanted to say about the selfishness of success, and how loss enters relationships. But for crying out loud, EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER has become a pathetic basket case, every relationship involves using people and ends badly, and just about everything goes wrong. Coming to this from Sideways is like picking up a new P. G. Wodehouse story and discovering it was actually written by Chuck Palahniuk.

I will say the book contains heartfelt descriptions of what it's like to minster to an elderly family member who is now an invalid. Indeed if you are actually in that space in your own life this probably could be a suicidally depressing book. Yes, the last few pages (out of four hundred!)have some moving writing, as Miles and his mother finally connect and she revisits the scenes of her childhood. But even this veers so dangerously close to melodrama as to verge on (unfunny) parody.

Will Vertical do for the Willamette Valley what Sideways did for Santa Ynez? Doubtful. Uplifting or funny? Don't make me laugh (really). Well written? Somewhat. Worth a read? Barely.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Rex the ridiculous, March 6, 2014
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This review is from: Vertical (Paperback)
Sideways was a fantastic movie. Sideways the book was good, but after barely making it through Vertical, I'm convinced Rex cannot write. If he thinks his use of big words makes him look smart, think again. It's all very unnatural, as if he sat with a Thesaurus while trying to think of another ridiculous line. This so-called sequel to Sideways the book, is nothing at all like the first one. You'd think he could at least remember the very basics(that a good editor would have caught)like a detail stating his mother is such a good cook in Sideways and in Vertical, she can't cook worth a crap and nearly burned the kitchen down. Hardee har har. How trite. A lot of this big Vertical road trip revolves around his mother's incontinence. He could have put the poor woman in some Depends and spared us the incessant repetition of how he keeps having to stop at rest stops along the way. The sex? COME ON. Rex should write for adult magazines; he would more likely reach the type of people that actually think the stuff he wrote is hot. Him and Jack even wonder about doing it with the GPS woman who's voice titillates them. So without giving away the spectacular ending (sarcasm noted) don't bother reading this bottom of the barrel crap. Save your money. You can see why Alexander Payne wouldn't go anywhere near Vertical as the sequel to his stellar movie. It has absolutely no substance whatsoever. I'm afraid Rex is going to have to ride out his fame on the tail of the movie Sideways, because he certainly will not be recognized for his writing.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Virtually unreadable, a far cry from Sideways, March 22, 2012
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This review is from: Vertical (Paperback)
I can only assume that the people who raved about Vertical saw the movie Sideways, and did not read the book Sideways. I saw this with all sincerity - the man who wrote Sideways is not the man who "wrote" Vertical. Vertical reeks of laziness, over-editing, and dumbing-down for a larger audience. Nothing is left to the imagination, the book kills you word by unnecessary word. Despite the fact that Miles and Jack have been friends for many, many years, the book is loaded with unnecessary and completely unrealistic dialogue. It is sappy and dull. The sex scenes are contrived. Miles lurches between rapture and despair in the same paragraph, and yet you never, ever get a clear understanding of why or how this happens. Everything is improbable, and the book contains nothing of the raw humor and originality of Sideways. The endless fabulous wines, all just splendiferous and all described virtually the same way, bored the hell out of me. The entire scene at Foxen was completely unbelievable and utterly ridiculous. There was nothing even remotely interesting, despite the utterly contrived and ridiculously over-the-top antics that weigh this junker down.

Before you condemn my review as bitter or unfair, compare any random page from Sideways to any random page from Vertical. They were NOT written by the same person. Certainly, Pickett came up with the story, but he called it in, and let it be slaughtered by writing assistants and editors.

Vertical is a terrble book, and I want my money back. Is that possible when you buy the Kindle edition?
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lessons In Fiction, January 6, 2011
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This review is from: Vertical (Paperback)
I read this book in about 3 days and that is saying something. I kept wanting to know what was going to happen next so it does keep your attention. I think it's actually a very different story with a completely different direction from it's predecessor. Yeah, there is Pickett's writing style of sometimes using words that most of us will probably have to look up, thoughts about wine, sex, and traveling to somewhere new, but I think it lacks the adventure quality of the first novel. The search for great wine, horny women and money is no more so things are more predictable.

This is deeper and the focus is more on Miles. Jack seems to play a background character who is just simply there along with anyone else in the book until the end when the Mother moves to the forefront of the story. But you get more emotionally involved. You can feel a bit more for the characters and how things in life have changed them. There are a few laugh out loud moments. The sexual descriptions and adjectives are a little more intense then they were in the first novel. The writer does reference his fame and ensures we know he was the whole reason for the base of the popular movie that followed. The Williamette Valley plays a little background in the book and that is good for that area. I have visited many wineries there and it is a great place to base some of this book.

I support adventures in wine. I support books with some spice to them. I support Rex Pickett. Highly recommend!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing follow-up to Sideways, January 7, 2014
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Like most people, I had seen the movie, "Sideways," before reading the book. Although the book provided some additional insights into the characters of Jack and Miles, the movie was still deeply ingrained in my reading of the book, largely due to the sympathetic portrayal of Miles by Paul Giamatti. Jack is an odious character, but at least Miles had some redeeming qualities....you really wanted things to work out for him and the way the movie ended left open the door of possibility. I always wondered what would happen when he walked through that door....both literally and figuratively.

So, I was delighted to learn that there was a sequel to the first book/movie, which takes place some seven years after the events of the first book/movie. Without giving too much away, the roles of Jack and Miles are essentially reversed: Miles is now successful and the womanizer, and Jack is on the skids after a failed marriage and dwindling job prospects. While that is certainly an interesting turn of events, I have to say that it was disappointing that the author couldn't envision any other way of developing or portraying these two characters. Unless that is the message here.....that men are little more than misogynistic, sex-addled, selfish, self-absorbed alcoholics that are unable to overcome their basest instincts, no matter how successful or intelligent they are? That is bad enough, but the author's portrayal (and treatment) of women in this follow-up, especially Maya and Stephanie, is beyond contempt. Ugh. I wish I had never read this sequel and left Miles poised on the threshold of possibility, where I could imagine a brighter and more-enlightened future for him.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars There's bad, then there's this..., January 24, 2014
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I'm absolutely stunned by how slack, awkward and juvenile this book is. I really wanted this to be something awesome, but by page 21 I knew I'd been had. You sense it right out of the gate, but it's like watching a car accident. Remember though, you can't unread stuff.

Yes, I found Pickett by way of the movie, which, as an oenophile, jazz man, reader, writer and foodie, I love. It fires all my personal cylinders. However, this can't touch the treatment in any way. How ironic. How weird. And sad. Yeah I know it's the follow up, and no I haven't read Sideways (thank God, it would have crushed me) but this is just plain old bad. It's freshman grade prose with the biggest, lamest words in the thesaurus sprinkled all over everything for the illusion of sophistication. Chthonic? Are you kidding me? Add in the constant nasty misogynist sex and it's just plain gross. I feel shameful. And I'm a dirty bird. How did Pickett pull that off?

Here's the kicker: instead of relisting it to recoup my loss, I threw it in the trash! One more literary perp off the street and the world's a better place. Adios muchacho. I won't let you ruin the Pacific Northwest for me, pal.
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Vertical
Vertical by Rex Pickett (Paperback - January 1, 2011)
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